1995 – 2012
Country of Origin
Birth – Death
1971 – 2019
Haitian-American Drag King Dred was one of the most prominent Drag Kings to emerge from the dynamic drag scene of New York City during the late 1990’s. Dred embodied the term “gender bender” long before it became common parlance. Moving with ease from male to female and showcasing an array of characters within one medley made Dred’s performances mesmerizing to say the least. Dred blurred and blended gender lines; made you question masculinity, sexuality, identity; challenged racial, social, gender stereotypes; and provided memorable, world class entertainment.
Born on June 9, 1971 in Brooklyn, New York, Mildred Gerestant began as a Drag King in December 1995 after seeing Drag King performances by Buster Hymen (Tracey Blackmer) and Justin Kase (Justine Keefe) at the infamous drag landmark, Pyramid Club, in the East Village of New York City. Following her first encounter with Drag Kings, Mildred was encouraged by Buster Hymen to participate in The Drag King Dating Game. Under the tutelage of Diane Torr at her Drag King Workshop, Buster learned how to become a Drag King and imparted this knowledge onto Mildred so she could make her first Drag King debut as Dred. That same night, Dred met fellow Drag Kings Mo B. Dick and Labio. Mo then persuaded Dred to enter Club Casanova’s first Drag King contest where Dred won making it the first of many Drag King contests s/he won in rapid succession.
From Lucas Hasten’s interview with Mildred: “She (Mo) had this contest coming up, a drag king contest, and she encouraged me to enter it.” Gerestant, however, was still too frightened to commit to the appearance; it was Fischer who pushed her to do it. Dred won that competition and thereafter began his longtime association with Club Casanova. Gerestant credits the other kings with bringing her into drag and making her feel welcome there. “Mo B. Dick helped me,” she said,”she pushed me to really do drag. And Buster Hymen helped me. It’s always good when people, your peers, are helping you get started. And there was real companionship there, and we did a lot of shows together.”(1)
Club Casanova was the world’s first weekly Drag King party produced and hosted by Mo B. Dick that started in 1996 and lasted 2 years. Dred was a permanent fixture and performed there regularly. Club Casanova closed due to pressure from then Mayor Rudy Giuliani who disliked NYC nightlife and subsequently closed many bars and clubs which provided entertainment for the masses. Not one to be stopped, the popular Drag King party became a touring show called The Men of Club Casanova.
1998 was an expansive year for the The Men of Club Casanova seeing the likes of the world’s first Drag King tour of US and Canada along with performing at the Creation Festival in Vienna, Austria and the Viper Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. Dred participated in the two European festivals and joined the East and West Coast portions of the tour of US and Canada performing with the group in Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Club Casanova was also where film director Gabriel Baur came to know of the Drag King scene and was inspired to create the successful feature documentary Venus Boyz in 2002. Venus Boyz is a ground-breaking feature documentary and the first to showcase the exploration and expression of female masculinity through the lens of drag and its myriad of expressions. As cited from their website, ‘women become men – some for a night, others for their whole lives’. This is an intimate journey with people who create intermediate sexual identities and bring us closer to the rich world of transgender life and the existential struggle as they break gender boundaries. This iconic documentary heavily features Dred as well as Diane Torr, Del LaGrace Volcano, Bridge Markland, Storme Webber, Mo B.Dick, Shelly Mars, Queen Bee Luscious, Philly Abe, Hans Scheirl, Svar Simpson, J. Jack Halberstam and others from the Drag King and transgender communities. Through the international success of Venus Boyz, Dred traveled the world to screen the film, perform and engage with audiences contributing her magnetism, charisma and loving personality that brought together a more inclusive world without gender, sexist and racist discrimination. (2)
And picking up on the burgeoning Drag King scene, the popular lesbian dance party Her-She Bar in Manhattan hosted a series of Drag King contests in 1996. Dred won every round to become Her-She Bar’s reigning Drag King winner. This spawned a frenzy of interest and club appearances throughout all of New York City.
Dred quickly garnered an international reputation as a phenomenally skilled gender bending performer using costumes, wigs, signature dance moves and an apple. Her performances paid homage to popular black singers: Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Sly Stone, Busta Rhymes, Puff Daddy, Run D.M.C., Jackson 5, Prince, Biggie Smalls, DJ Kool, Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones and more. S/he embodied the mack daddy, superfly, gangsta, pimp, rapper and goddess supreme effortlessly in one performance medley. Dred also collaborated with fellow performers Drag Queen femme fatale Queen Bee Luscious and sexy stud’s Drag Kings Shane and Mistah to create duets and group performances.
In 1997, the Club Casanova Drag King crew performed as The Village People at Wigstock, NYC’s infamous drag festival hosted by Lady Bunny. Dred played the military officer in the group ensemble. This was the first participation for a Drag King ensemble to be included in Wigstock and a clip of this performance was included in Wig, the HBO documentary in 2019.
In 1999, the seminal work of famed photographer Del LaGrace Volcano and academic Judith “Jack” Halberstam, The Drag King Book, came out in bookstores to critical and international acclaim. The importance of The Drag King Book cannot be overstated as it was the catalyst to inspire and galvanize Drag Kings on an international level. The striking photos taken by Del reflect multiple layers embedded in the many stories of masculine expression. Dred is a prominent figure in this important tome which serves as the first book ever to feature Drag Kings.
In 1999, Dred participated in the first International Drag King Extravaganza (commonly called IDKE) in Columbus, Ohio. This was a 3 day event that promoted community among Drag Kings on an international level. Dred’s performances were well documented in The Drag King Anthology edited by Donna Troka, Kathleen Lebesco and Jean Noble.
On June 25, 2000, the popular HBO television show Sex and the City aired episode 4 from Season 3 entitled “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl….” which incorporated Drag Kings in its plot. It was the photographs by Del LaGrace Volcano in The Drag King Book, that inspired this episode and subsequently were featured in the gallery scene. Del insisted that real Drag Kings be given parts as extras and the producers complied by hiring Dred, Mo B. Dick and others. Unfortunately, their scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Despite the omission, it stands that Drag Kings were a part of this award winning show serving as the first time scores of people came to know of Drag Kings for the first time.(3)
Also in 2000, the film History Lessons by award-winning, American, lesbian, feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer premiered. Shot in 16mm, Hammer reclaims and rewrites lesbian history through her playful but empowering manipulation of a vast array of archival footage, from popular films to newsreels, sex ed pics, stag reels, medical and educational films, old nudies, and more.(4) Barbara cast Drag Kings Dred, Mo B. Dick, Antonio Caputo, Mistah, performance artist Carmelita Tropicana, Coco Feliciano and others to recreate outdoor and bar scenes in the formerly seedy Meat Packing district of Manhattan. Hammer is considered a pioneer of queer cinema and her work is seen today worldwide in museums, film retrospectives, art gallery’s and in University courses.
Dred also made television debuts on Maury Povich, Ricki Lake and Sally Jessie Raphael in their gender reveal episodes. Dred was successful in fooling the audience on every show as her gender bender fluidity left them stumped and unable to correctly identify her as a woman.
In her book, 100 of the Most Influential Gay Entertainers, author Jenettha J. Baines, aptly describes Dred as the multi-talented actress and star of “The Dred Love Experience”. This is one of many books where Dred is extolled for her contributions on and off stage.
As listed on the website for Venus Boyz, Venus Boyz here is Dred’s updated bio from 2004: “DRED GODDESS is smooth-headed, Internationally known Haitian-American, multi-spirited creator, perfor-mance-artist, actress, activist, singer, comedian model-citizen, poet, educator, writer, inspiring filmmaker, choreographer and gender-illusioning woman – seen on HBO, MTV, Oxygen Network and one of the stars of the award-winning and world premiering film “Venus Boyz.” DRED’s film experiences include working with Steven Spielberg on “Terminal” where she sang a Haitian Creole hymn she wrote. She also does workshops on identity with kids, adults, and spirits, and speaks and performs at universities and shelters as well. Using theater, dance, film, cultural history, music, poetry, and LOTS of humor, DRED breaks down racial, sexual, religious, and gender stereotypes, and conventional roles created in society – creating a better under-standing and acceptance of the beauty of the expression of one’s individual truth. She also does characters and voices and her own facial-hair make up. DRED’s performances are humorous, lots of fun, and uses them to educate people about being open to all forms of beauty, all kinds of humans, and has been blessed to do it all over the world including the US, Korea, Australia, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Scandi-navia, Germany, and Brazil.
In the midst of her world wide travel, Drag King shows and performances, Mildred took her skills to theatre stages as well, acting in numerous plays and performing her one person show at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Dixon Place, Black Box Theatre and Wow Cafe Theatre.
In 2011, Dred performed and served as a guest judge at the 16th annual SF Drag King Contest In August. Her final performance as a Drag King was at the annual Pow Wow conference in Chicago, IL in November.
In early 2012, Dred relinquished her Drag King identity to focus on her spiritual life far from the spotlight, constant hustle, and cheering crowds. She became a yoga teacher and changed her name to Light Ning.
On November 19, 2019 Mildred Gerstant aka Dred aka Light Ning passed away. We lost a friend, legendary Drag King, cultural giant, queer renegade, tireless activist, inspirational icon, fierce force, shining star and overall wonderful human being.
“Always remember to love yourself”
– Mildred / Dred / Light
(Submitted by Mo B. Dick, Los Angeles, CA)